New colleges cause local stir

Although Yale and New Haven officials have suggested recently that the University’s plan to embark on a large construction project — possibly two new residential colleges — in Dixwell has the all-but-unanimous backing of the community, some residents said their views on Yale’s expansion in the neighborhood have been misrepresented.

But so far, the voice of expansion has been winning out.

A mother and son are walking home in the Dixwell area. Some residents worry about the possible construction of two new colleges.
Adam Trettel
A mother and son are walking home in the Dixwell area. Some residents worry about the possible construction of two new colleges.

In a unanimous vote at Monday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, taken after only several minutes of discussion, the Board approved a measure giving Yale the right to shut down parts of Sachem St., Mansfield St. and Prospect Place in return for Yale’s giving $10.25 million to the city for upgrading roads and sidewalks. The vote was a stepping stone in an arrangement that will enable Yale to embark on a massive construction project in the area.

Five aldermen spoke in favor of the plan, but one, Ward 13 Alderman Alexander Rhodeen, called on Yale to conduct a traffic assessment immediately, since he said understanding the impact of the road closures is “crucial to intelligent planning.”

Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee said he was happy Yale is taking the initiative to improve the Dixwell neighborhood.

“The community seems like they’re on board with it,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we be?”

Aldermen, city developers and some residents have praised the expansion as an endeavor that would bring jobs and economic revitalization to the neighborhood while causing minimal headaches for residents. But a number of residents who live within several blocks of the soon-to-be-closed streets complained of already inconvenient traffic patterns, loud noise and dirt from ongoing utility construction, and a lack of candor from the Yale administration in conveying its plans.

Ward 22 Alderman Rev. Drew King said all members of the Dixwell community — “no ifs, ands or buts about it” — support the construction of new residential colleges as a means to bring Yale and the city “closer together.”

“I couldn’t ask for anything better than having dorms built there,” King said. “With them building those dorms in our neighborhood, we’re going to see some positive people doing some positive things and encouraging the kids [in Dixwell] that they can be Yale students, doctors or lawyers.”

Roxanne Condon, chair of the Dixwell Management Team — an organization charged with improving the neighborhood in which the new residential colleges would be built — said she is “generally happy” about Yale’s recent steps towards expansion.

“It will mean there will be even more people in the area walking around,” she said. “We’ve been very supportive of what they’re doing and hope that the new residential colleges would bring more jobs to the area.”

But Condon does have one small concern: traffic. She said existing construction projects in the area have delayed her ride home five to 10 minutes on occasion.

For others, however, the proposal to permanently close certain streets is a cause for alarm.

Yale lecturer in environmental science Mike Northrop, a resident of the area, said though he is not opposed to Yale’s expansion in the neighborhood, city officials have too hastily called for the roads’ closure. Northrop said he would have suggested an independent appraisal instead.

“Streets are public rights of way, and they should be preserved as public rights of way,” he said. “If they need to be relocated, that should be done with a cooperative design effort with the city, but the city should not necessarily give up rights to them … Instead of closing off streets, I think more connections need to be made.”

Anstress Farwell GRD ’74, Executive Director of the New Haven Urban Design League, criticized the university for trying to create an enclosed area like Cross Campus rather than a school genuinely integrated into the urban fabric.

“What made Yale a better campus plan was that it was literally a university in the city and part of the city, and people could walk through it,” Farwell said.

But after the Monday night meeting, Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, Yale’s Associate Vice President for the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, dismissed the complaints of those arguing against street closure.

“It’s preposterous and laughable to say that goes against common sense and good urban design,” he said.

Of a dozen Dixwell residents interviewed at their homes over the weekend, three-fourths said they would prefer that Yale curb construction in the area. Utility projects that have turned Canal St. into a one-way road have made the residents wary of further construction.

Diane Jones, who lives above a day care center — “We Care for the Kids” is etched on a sign attached to her home — said further construction followed by an influx of students will negatively affect the children in the area.

“This is crazy,” she said. “Too much is going on around here. It’s just a mess.”

Yet Maggie Brandon said she is excited for the completion of the projects, since her four adolescent children may find employment opportunities in the new residential colleges.

Around the corner on Mansfield Street, Luis Otero had a different take. Though he moved into the house in part to escape the bustle of New Haven’s downtown, past construction has kept him up at 1:30 a.m., and he anticipates that an expansion would bother him even more.

As Otero brushed dust off the side of his porch, he complained that the construction projects brought the dirt to his doorstep and blemished the house he painted only one year ago. He said his home has decreased in value and will continue to do so until construction is finally complete.

“But I don’t want to wait that long,” he said.

Chris, a Winchester Avenue resident who declined to give her last name, said she could not decide whether or not Yale has been a positive force in Dixwell. Then, leaning over her porch banister and pointing at a red, brown — and now, dirt-black — building next door with a peeling wall, half a roof and a yard sprinkled with fallen bricks, she said she was sure of one thing: Dixwell could use some renovation.

“Just look at that,” she said. “That’s an eyesore.”

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